History of Science

Two green birds with grey feathers and white stomachs on a large white flower that in a body of water with plants and lily pads in the background.
Detail of a lithograph of a short-tailed emerald in "A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds" by John Gould, Volume 5, Plate 358, 1849-1861. Call Number: Ellis Aves H90.

Ornithology, botany and taxonomy are the scientific fields in which the Department has its strongest holdings. We have attempted to provide a few important texts in other scientific fields, from alchemy to space travel, while avoiding any significant duplication with neighboring libraries. An informal cooperative arrangement with the Clendening History of Medicine Library at the KU Medical Center, the special collections at Kansas State University in Manhattan, and the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City allocates responsibility for collecting in the various scientific fields and provides the student of the History of Science with major resources within a day's journey.

A few examples of our miscellaneous scientific texts are Regiomontanus on Ptolemy's Almagest (1550), Boyle's Some Considerations Touching the Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy (1664-1671), Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), Leeuwenhoek's Arcana naturae detectae (1695), Lavoisier's Opuscules Physiques et Chymiques (1774), Berzelius' De l'Emploi du Chalumeau dans les Analyses Chimiques (1821), Maxwell's A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Rutherford's Radio-Activity (1904), and Eiffel's La résistance de l'air et l'aviation (1910).

Ellis Ornithology Collection

A collection of natural history consisting of some 15,000 bound volumes, as well as a large quantity of pamphlets, letters, original drawings, manuscripts, and other miscellanea. Approximately one third of the collection is devoted to ornithology.

The Ellis collection of literature pertaining to natural history consists of some 15,000 bound volumes, as well as a very large quantity of pamphlets, letters, original drawings, manuscripts, and other miscellanea. Perhaps a third of the collection is concerned wholly with ornithology, including a great many items which are rare or in some way unique, and considerable portions of the rest are concerned partially with the same subject. Another third of the collection is devoted to voyages and travels (mainly scientific expeditions), and the remainder is made up of other natural history together with a useful bibliographical collection. The library, of great value both for its cultural and aesthetic content and for its utility in scientific research, was formed mainly in the years 1930-1945 by the late Ralph Nicholson Ellis, Jr. (1908-1945), by whose bequest it came to the University of Kansas.

While the most obviously striking items from the Ellis Collection are certainly the great illustrated folios such as Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1730-1748), Audebert and Vieillot's Oiseaux Dorés ou à Reflets Métalliques (Paris, 1800-1802) with its gleaming metallic plates, and Daubenton's Planches Enluminées (1765-1780), it is not for the beauty of the illustrative art but for their contribution to scientific knowledge that the books are valued in this collection. William Turner's Avium Praecipuarum ... Historia (Cologne, 1544), the earliest of countless books on birds written by Englishmen, is the first serious criticism of classical ornithologists and has been called the first scientific book on birds. Belon's L'Histoire de la Nature des Oyseaux (Paris, 1555), John Ray's edition of The Ornithology of Francis Willughby (London, 1676 and 1678), Edwards' A Natural History of Uncommon Birds and his Gleanings of Natural History (1743-1764)--these represent the scientific spirit of the pre-Linnaean ornithologists. In the post-Linnaean period we might mention especially Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology (Philadelphia, 1808-1814), which marks the beginning of serious American ornithology, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (the first edition of 1859 and the five subsequent editions revised during Darwin's lifetime), Phillips' A Natural History of the Ducks (1922-1926), Max Furbringer's Untersuchungen zur Morphologie und Systematik der Vogel (1888), and Benjamin Smith Barton's Fragments of the Natural History of Pennsylvania (1799).

Of particular note in the Ellis Collection is the remarkable collection of John Gould, one of the nineteenth century's most notable ornithological illustrators. In addition to a complete collection of Gould's major works, the Ellis Collection has the world's most important collection of Gould drawings and paintings, amounting to over 2,000 sketches, annotated drawings, water-colors (both rough and highly-finished), tissue drawings and tracings, and twelve lithographic stones. These holdings are supplemented by the Dr. Gordon C. Sauer Gouldiana Collection of additional drawings, Gould letters (both originals and transcripts), and other supportive books and archives.

Considerable holdings in ornithological and other zoological periodicals, including both the well-known standard journals and some more rare early journals, provide supporting material to make the Ellis Collection a complete working library.

The voyages and travels from the Ellis Collection are mentioned in connection with the Department's other holdings in the subject.

Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick Botany Collection

A collection of eight thousand volumes from the library of the late Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick with a focus on early American science, particularly botany, and some notable European works.

The acquisition in 1953 of some eight thousand volumes from the library of the late Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick brought to the library considerable holdings in early American science, particularly botany, as well as some notable European works. The collection (apart from Fitzpatrick's own manuscripts) has not been preserved as a unit but its contents can be traced through the provenance files of the department. Fitzpatrick holdings include a certain number of Linnaeus items (discussed with the rest of the Linnaeus collection); an excellent small collection of the English natural historians John Ray and Francis Willughby; an important collection of the works of the American biologist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (including a fine copy of his Caratteri di alcuni nuovi generi e nuove specie DI animali e piante della Sicilia, Palermo, 1810, his rare single-issue journal, Annals of Nature, Lexington, Ky., 1820, and complete runs of periodical ventures such as his Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge, Philadelphia, 1832-1833); various works by Newton and numbers of the early herbalists. In American science the most notable holdings are in botany, the work of such men as William Darlington, Jacob Bigelow, Thomas Nuttall, and Stephen Elliot.

The department's holdings in botany began with the Fitzpatrick acquisition but have not, especially in the case of the early herbals, stopped there. With the Fitzpatrick library we acquired Brunfels, Chabrey, a delightful hand-colored Dioscorides of 1543, Evelyn's Silva, Fuchs, Gesner, and Nehemiah Grew, to give only a few samples of the wealth of this acquisition. Our continuing interest is demonstrated by the presence in our stacks of the 1517 Hortus Sanitatis, the L'Ecluse Rariorum Plantarum Historia (Antwerp, 1601), many 16th century editions of Mattioli on Dioscorides, Dalechamps' Historia Generalis Plantarum (Lyon, 1586-1587), L'Heritier de Brutelle's Sertum Anglicanum (1788- 1792), Horace Walpole's Essay on Modern Gardening (1785), and many others.

Linnaeus Collection

An impressive collection of over two thousand volumes of works by Linnaeus and items of Linnaeana, including the extremely rare first edition of Systema Naturae (1735).

The acquisition of the Ellis Collection in 1945 brought to the Library what was reputed to be the most extensive collection of works by and about the great eighteenth-century taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus in the hands of any private collector in this country. The addition to this in 1953 of an almost equal number of Linnaeus items from the Fitzpatrick acquisition produced a significant collection--one which is still growing, with considerable additions each year.

In all, the Linnaeus collection includes well over two thousand volumes of works by Linnaeus and items of Linnaeana. Nearly all of his major works are here in many editions, of which a hundred or more are first editions. There are long runs of the journals published by the principal Linnaean societies, many biographical works, and representative early editions of works by Linnaeus' disciples and contemporaries. Particularly notable are the various editions of the Systema Naturae, including the extremely rare first edition (1735), a complete set of the Linnaean dissertations in their first editions, a splendid copy of the Hortus Cliffortianus (1737), and the scarce first edition of Pehr Kalm's En Resa till Norra America (Stockholm, 1753-1761).

Special Collections Contact

Elspeth Healey

Special Collections Curator for post-1700 materials (except the areas listed below)



Eve Wolynes

Special Collections Curator for pre-1700 materials, Asian collections, history of science, maps/cartography



Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine

The University of Kansas, specifically Spencer Research Library and the Clendening Library at the KU Medical Center, is a member institution of the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. The Consortium offers multiple fellowship opportunities each year.